I should have known that when I was writing a Letter to the Editor of The Auroran that I was actually writing to the EDITOR.
In my Letter to the Editor, printed in The Auroran (Week of January 27, 2022), it seems the version printed by the paper was edited by the Editor and consequently lost part of the message I was trying to convey. Whatever the reason, it’s no longer important. I didn’t ask, I can’t un-print my letter after all, so let me share with you the letter I wrote, the unedited version [with statements that were removed highlighted in bold].
Letter to the Editor (Unedited)
My go-to page in The Auroran is page four. So what’s on page four? Well, three things: the Letter to the Editor; Machell’s Corners; and Brock’s Banter. There is a fourth section, a fine printed recurring section some may need a pair of reading spectacles to see.
Spectacles? Who uses the word spectacles nowadays? I admit, I have read everything ‘Sherlock Holmes’, and I know everything about spectacles. I like it better, just a more eloquent word as opposed to reading glasses.
Now to the point. I want to comment on Scott Johnston’s boardwalk cartoon from December 9th, 2021 found on page four. Scott nailed it. It is funny, yet it depicts the true nature of the new wooden structure along Yonge Street just south of St. John’s Sideroad.
Next time you walk on this boardwalk, you can spectate “the existing sidewalk that runs next to it only a few metres away.” The boardwalk is part of the Kwik Kopy Trail, years ago budgeted at $150,000 and now ballooning under this Council term to $927,900, with the boardwalk alone at $630,000. [Who suggested it? St. Andrew’s College pitched the idea to the Town. No hard questions were asked when Aurora Council approved the budget increase(s) over the last two terms.] Let that sink in for a moment, $630,000 for an approximately 360 m long boardwalk, about 10 meters away from a perfectly usable and more accessible sidewalk. How about the future maintenance, repair and liability costs?
[Furthermore, wait until you hear more about your tax dollars funding the future St. Anne’s All-girls Private School sports fields that are budgeted at approximately $5,000,000. But that’s another Letter to the Editor for another lock-down day.] [end]
I Wrote a Letter to the EDITOR
I guess spectacles came in handy after all. I reverted to read the fine print on page four, the Editorial Policy, because I honestly didn’t think my letter was going to be edited out. However, the policy states “Letters may be edited or refused.” It’s interesting that I still get full credit for the edited version but what is even more interesting in the editorial policy is this statement, “Opinions expressed by columnists, contributors and letter writers are not necessarily those of The Auroran.” Think about it.
Furthermore, if the statements highlighted in the above letter were not excluded I wouldn’t be compelled to expand on the Kwik Kopy boardwalk. It’s important to note that the project is done and the current Aurora Council appreciates the project, as I am sure many residents appreciate it as well, regardless of whether the costs were clearly outlined or not.
St. Andrew’s College Influence
I watched and read a lot about this project and I am telling you that it wasn’t really a simple path for the Town staff to complete the Kwik Kopy Trail as the property kept changing owners. Well timing is everything. So the time was right when St. Andrew’s College purchased the land at the south west corner St. John’s Sideroad and Yonge Street.
Then, according to the General Committee Meeting Agenda, May 15, 2018 Report No. OPS18-013, St. Andrew’s College pitched the idea of a boardwalk to the Town.
“The Town of Aurora was approached by SAC in late 2017 to discuss the proposed trail along the Yonge Street frontage of the property. SAC requested a design change, as a result of their purchase of the lands and future needs on the property and requested that the Town consider the installation of an elevated boardwalk system similar to the Mackenzie Marsh Boardwalk as part of the overall re development of the site.” Page 31/74 (PDF File).
In a timely fashion York Region and Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority granted all necessary approvals to move forward with the project.
In addition, I initially thought that the Kwik Kopy boardwalk was built on St. Andrew’s College property or so called Willow Farm lands. It is not so, it’s built on the Regional right-of-way parcel.
“Additionally, it will be necessary to obtain approvals through Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority (LSRCA), as the boardwalk would be within the floodplain as well as the Regional Municipality of York’s approval since the boardwalk would be in the Regional right-of-way.” Page 32/74 (PDF File).
When the report was presented at the General Committee meeting on May 15, 2018 there was only one question from Cllr Thompson (See Reference 2), Cllr Abel was not in favour, Cllr Gaertner not present for discussion, Cllr Pirri absent, and Mayor Dawe, Cllr Mrakas, Cllr Thompson, Cllr Thom, Cllr Humfryes, Cllr Kim were all in favour for the $630,000 increase (Phase2) in addition to $185,000 (Phase 1) project budget.
No Hard Questions Were Asked
My question stands, why would the Town and the majority of the last term Council (2018) agree to this costly off-road boardwalk of the Kwik Kopy Trail to be funded by the Town? Where were the hard questions? Is $630,000 not a lot of money when there exists a ‘perfectly usable and more accessible sidewalk’ already in place just beside? Bonus, a sidewalk is maintained in the winter. According to notices around the boardwalk on St. John’s Sideroad, boardwalks are not maintained during the winter probably to avoid damages by the snow removal equipment. It is also not recommended to ride bicycles or motorized vehicles on such boardwalks. It feels like the sidewalk choice would have been a win-win lower budget scenario for the Kwik Kopy Trail. You must also know we have trails in Town that are connected by sidewalks. How about the future maintenance, repair and liability costs paid by taxpayers on an ongoing basis? Whether it’s the Town or York Region that assumes this responsibility, we pay taxes to both entities. Not to mention that eventually this boardwalk will have to be replaced. As you may know the Town is currently replacing a 10 year old boardwalk nearby on the north side of St. John’s Sideroad for $600,000 (Budget 2021, Pg 58/106, PDF file). Lets hope the Kwik Kopy boardwalk lifespan is more than that.
Partnership in Question
During the June 4, 2019 General Committee meeting Town staff presented to Council York Region’s Municipal Streetscape Partnership Program (MSPP) funding opportunity of $150,000 for streetscape enhancements and improvements on St. John’s Sideroad and Yonge Street corner. The funding of $150,000 would reduce costs in the Kwik Kopy boardwalk associated with the enhancement program.
Mr. Downey explained, “It’s an opportunity to get additional funding in order to support some of the work that’s taking place within this, primarily to deal with corner improvements at St. John’s Sideroad and Yonge Street.” Mr. Downey, while briefly describing the long history of this project, also said, “We would like to do those corner improvement for two reasons, few reasons. First, it’s very old and it really does need upgrading. It’s an entrance into Aurora and I think we can really upgrade it. Make it look much better and we now have a partner in St. Andrew’s College who also have have an interest in making sure that this corner has some presence.”
And what exactly is the Town’s partnership with St. Andrew’s College? I really don’t know. It is not transparent. But what I do know is that so far, taxpayers have been paying.
Mayor Tom Mrakas Defends the Boardwalk
Mayor Tom Mrakas went to Social Media and in his November 30, 2021 Facebook post he defended the boardwalk by stating that “And lastly as I mentioned previously this trail is and was identified by the trails master plan and is a great addition to the connectivity of our extensive trail system.” and again in Comments “this was identified and part of the trails master plan in 2011.” Yes, the Kwik Kopy Trail was identified as part of the Trails Master Plan, but NOT with the boardwalk, it was an off-road path or simply continued with the sidewalk.
Finally, as per my last statement in the Letter to the Editor, I will be reviewing more partnerships in the near future. Stay tuned. I have also included additional references below, and I am always interested to hear your comments.
1. May 15, 2018 Council Meeting, Transcribed Discussion
Watch here: https://youtu.be/tEhZtmwdb3M?t=8295
NOTE, that the cost of the boardwalk was not mentioned at all during the conversation between Cllr Thompson and Mr. Downey.
Cllr Thompson: “I apologize I wanted to reach out to you prior to this but just going back to where the trail is situated, I’m trying to remember how we last left it. Did we not say that it would go back up onto Yonge Street and run along the sidewalk? Is that where we we left off? Because we’ve been discussing this trail off and on for a few years and so I think it was the decision at that time to make it link up with the sidewalk. Was it not or maybe you can fill me in going through.“
Mr. Downey: “The project was to proceed in two phases. Council has approved a trail parallel to the sidewalk within the regional road allowance. The reason we built the trail in two phases so going north into the Willow Farm Trail was north but I apologize West. We didn’t have region approval to build the trail within the regional road allowance we have now received that and we have now been in communications with St. Andrews College who were having some objection with regards to our trail; however, now that they have purchased the property and they are looking at some coordinated development of those lands between themselves and the town and they’ve asked us to consider a boardwalk in that area. So we have regional approval, we have capital funding from Council to build the trail off road parallel to the sidewalk on Yonge Street and we are now asking for those funds to be supplemented or increased in order to accommodate a boardwalk in that same location.“
Cllr Thompson: “Thank you. So I’m clear. So present configuration has it on road, this request is to move it off road and build the boardwalk? Is that accurate?“
Mr. Downey: “Present approval has it off road, we just haven’t constructed it yet. So the trail presently goes onto the sidewalk and you walk the sidewalk, but that is not what is approved by Council.“
Cllr Thompson: “Yes I’m just trying to get the increase which is really for the boardwalk piece.”
Mr. Downey: “Correct, going from an off-road trail to an off-road boardwalk.”
2. June 7, 2019 General Committee Meeting, Transcribed Discussion
Watch here: https://youtu.be/mN4LkWe1n2g?t=8393
General Committee Agenda: (Page 58/79, file type PDF)
Cllr Gallo: “Could someone just summarize the work and the connection to the trail, the off-road connection to the trail. I don’t know if that’s still on the record. I know there was an easement there but I’m sorry I’m not up to speed on.”
Mr. Downey: “Through you Madam Chair of this report wasn’t addressing that so I’m going to give you a bit of history lesson that really has not much to do with this application. The Kwik Kopy Trail was a trail that was identified; the reasons it was called Kwik Kopy Trail, because Kwik Kopy used to own it about 25 years ago. When they purchased it we had created an easement across the property for a trail and we had a 20-year period in which to exercise our option to build a trail within that easement. Prior to that easement being released, it (property) was sold. The new owner had to take on responsibility of that easement. We approached the owner to negotiate a relocation of that easement to relocate the trail in a more appropriate location from pedestrian point of view as well as construction point of view, and we felt it was also benefit to the property owner itself because it somewhat separated the property to one side to another. Before we got that completely done it was sold again, started re-negotiations with that particular owner. Finally got the easement taken care of and got approvals to move forward with a trail within that new easement. That trail has been constructed. It’s well used. It releases out onto Yonge Street at this point from Willow Farm. During the discussion of our trail system and it was particularly brought up by a delegate (KW) wanting a trail, an off-road trail parallel to Yonge Street. Because we had simply brought it out to the sidewalk on Yonge Street and he wanted it off-road instead of on the sidewalk. Council agreed with that, asked us to go forward with placing an off-road trail within the property road allowance. We had to get approval from the Region with regards to that. While that took place this property sold again, it sold to St. Andrew’s College who are the present owners of the property.
In discussion with St. Andrew’s College, they had some concerns with regards to that trail and they expressed those concerns. However, we had not received approval from the Region at that point so we didn’t know whether or not we were not going to be able to move forward with this off road trail since that section of Yonge Street is actually responsibility of the Region. Then just before that, no soon after that I apologize, there was a property at the corner of the entrance into St. Andrew’s College that was owned privately and that was sold once again to St. Andrew’s College and with that they created discussions with the new plan with regards to potentially a boardwalk within this area.
So we met with St. Andrew’s College, made a presentation to Council and Council approved the installation of a boardwalk within the road allowance adjacent to St. Andrew’s College from our present location of where the trail comes out onto Yonge Street to the corner of St. John Sideroad and Yonge Street. The region has given us approval to move forward with that. So, we have received Regional approval. We do have approval of the adjacent landowner. We also got approval for funding. So the Region has recently contacted us and said, well because part of the project to do some improvements at the corner of St. John Sideroad and Yonge Street they have an application process for funding, which this report addresses. And so it’s an opportunity to get additional funding in order to support some of the work that’s taking place within this, primarily to deal with corner improvements at St. John’s Sideroad and Yonge Street. We would like to do those corner improvement for two reasons, few reasons. First, it’s very old and it really does need upgrading. It’s an entrance into Aurora and I think we can really upgrade it. Make it look much better and we now have a partner in St. Andrew’s College who also have have an interest in making sure that this corner has some presence.
So the Region has informed us that we have an opportunity to get 1/3 funding. So we identified the cost or isolated the cost of the corner improvements and this report we need a Council resolution that supports the improvements to the corner as part of our application process to the Region. If we are successful, we get approximately $150,000 from the Region in support of that work. With that, we can do a boardwalk and the corner improvements within our allocated budget. If we don’t get it, if we still want to do the improvements, we will be over budget, potentially over budget, we haven’t gone into tender and if we do, in order to obtain award of that tender we may be coming back to Council for additional funding, but that is in the event that we don’t get funding from the Region. But we have no indications at this time that that we wouldn’t get it. So that’s a long explanation to your question, but it’s the best way of getting to a point where we are today.
Cllr Gallo: “Thank you Mr. Downey, I was aware up to the approvals and aware Klaus wanted off road. So I’m super happy that we were able to accommodate them an off-road trail there. It’s been a long time waiting and the addition to the corner I think is fantastic and has my full support.”
Cllr Kim: “I think you answered my question Mr. Downey but just to reiterate, my question was the proposed project funding was $887,000 and the improvement was $815,000 for shortfall of $72,000, and so if the Region and its program didn’t step in then we would have been underfunded. I think you answered the question that you would have come back in and asked Council for an increase in the budget?”
Mr. Downey: “We identified that in advance that in the financial implications part of the report on the bottom of page, 3 of 5. We say in the instance should the budget be deemed to be insufficient, staff will bring a report to Council requesting the necessary increase to the total budget for the capital project.”
Mayor Mrakas: “Thank you Madam Chair. I agree this is a long time coming, trails committee worked on this for a while as well and we had discussions about it and I’m happy to see this moving forward. I just have one question through you Madam Chair to Mr. Downey, with an entrance sign or signage does that mean that we won’t be able to put an election sign there? I am just asking for my fellow colleagues, that’s all.”
Mr. Downey: “My understanding that’s a regional corner anyway so you would have to deal with the region on that. So I’ll ask Mayor Scarpetti and the rest of them when I see them.”